John Barbirolli

Nielsen: Symphony No. 4; Sibelius: Symphony No. 3

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After his dedication to the English modernists and his predilection for the Viennese classics, English conductor John Barbirolli was most interested in the music of the European fin de siècle. This 2007 BBC disc documents two of Barbirolli's encounters with this repertoire: a 1965 Nielsen Fourth and a 1969 Sibelius Third. Both were performed in the Royal Albert Hall with the conductor's own Hallé Orchestra, and both are characteristically strong-willed, highly individualistic interpretations. Barbirolli's Nielsen Fourth is hard-driving and vigorous with an eye to the big climaxes, yet the work's central Poco Allegretto and Poco adagio quasi andante are wonderfully differentiated by plucky woodwinds and soaring strings. Barbirolli's Sibelius Third is similarly hard-driving in its outer movements, but in its central Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto has such evocative colors and mysterious depths that this performance may arguably be even better than his splendid studio recording. The Manchester orchestra's playing is ardently energetic and passionately enthusiastic, and though the attacks can be quite rough at times in the Nielsen, this may be to a certain extent unavoidable in what was then non-standard repertoire. BBC's live stereo sound is more than tolerable, though not much more.

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